The Novel Coronavirus situation is worsening with more and more cases globally…Every country is taking many measures to handle the unprecedented situation. In this context, President Trump has taken many measures such as banning entry from certain countries like China, EU Region, etc. which have more COVID-19 cases. In addition to that, On March 13th, 2020, President Trump Declared National Emergency for COVID-19 Outbreak. Also, US Embassy in India has Canceled Visa Appointments… Also, USCIS continue to announce alerts like rescheduling their appointments, closing offices, etc..With all of these going on, many of you are wondering what does it mean for international holders on visas like H1B, H4, F1, L1, etc. and how does it impact USCIS processing, if your petition is expiring or you have an appointment with USCIS. We will cover all those aspects in this article and keep this page updated as we have new alerts issues by USCIS.
Apr-3 – AILA Files Lawsuit against USICIS to extend deadlines
April 3, 2020 : AILA filed a lawsuit against USCIS/DHS seeking extension of deadlines and implementing status quo for all the lawful non-immigrants in US. Check completed details at AILA Lawsuit against USCIS – COVID-19 Extend Deadlines
Apr-1 – USCIS Offices Closed at least until May 3rd.
April 1st, 2020 : USCIS issued an alert today indicating that they continue to keep their offices closed at least until May 3rd. The previous guidance was that they would have it closed at least until April 1st, now they are extending the same for another month at least. What does it mean for everyone ? It is no different from before, you cannot go for Biometrics Appointments for H4, L2. You cannot do any interviews or in-person activities that require your presence in their office. You cannot have Naturalization ceremonies or Infopass Appointment, including Asylum interviews. USCIS will take necessary steps to re-schedule all the appointments accordingly and send you the new appointments once they plan to open their Offices for In-person activities. It is going to further delay processing of H4, B2, H4 + EAD, L2 + EAD applications that require Biometrics as part of I-539 form. Looking at the situation, we do not know, if USCIS will be ready. Hope they issue some guidance to re-use the Biometrics for other visa types such as H4, B2, L2, etc. Currently, the Biometrics re-use is only applicable to I-765 forms that are for few categories, Check below Mar 30th update. See below alert screenshot from USCIS, check it at USCIS Press Alert
Mar-30 – Reuse Biometrics for I-765 forms, continue processing
March 30th, 2020 : USCIS announced today that they will re-use any previously submitted biometrics to process the Form I-765 forms that are submitted for Employment Authorization Document (EAD). The EAD Categories that require biometrics are below :
- (c)(33) – DACA Holders
- (c)(35) – Approved employment-based immigrant petition with compelling circumstances
- (c)(36) – spouse or unmarried dependent child of employment-based immigrant petition with compelling circumstances
- (c)(37) – CNMI long-term resident status.
They have not given any guidance for the I-539 form, which requires Biometrics for H4, L2, etc. Those visa categories will need to defer their biometrics appointments. It is not a relief for H4 holders who have concurrent EAD filing as well… Read USCIS Alert
Mar-27 – RFE and NOID – Submission 60 Days Flexibility Option
March 27th, 2020 : USCIS announced today that they are giving more flexibility with dates for submission of responses for Request for Evidence (RFE) and Notice of Intent to Deny(NOID) for any of employers that have received RFEs/NOIDs dated between March 1st and May 1st, 2020. Below is what it means.
- Why Flexibility with RFE / NOID Submission : If you look at a sample RFE for Maintenance of Status, Employer Employee relationship, you will see that USCIS is requesting for many documents that would be required from employers, clients, vendors, third parties or schools to address the items in RFE or NOID. With many offices working from home and some closed, employers may not be able to respond on time with all the required documents and there can be delays. USCIS to address this situation with COVID-19, they are giving flexibility to submit the responses for RFE and NOID.
- 60 Days Flexibility to Submit Docs : USCIS says that, if you have got an RFE or NOID, that is dated between March 1st and May 1st, 2020, then you get additional 60 days flexibility to submit the documents. USCIS will consider any responses that are received within 60 Calendar days from the deadline specified in the RFE/ NOID, before they take any action or decision on the case. Technically, they will wait for 60 more days from the deadline date in RFE.
- All Visa Types, Benefits Applied : USCIS has not specified any specific Visa types or Form Types in the alert. It is safe to assume that this applies to all visa types like H1B, H4 Visa, L1, L2, EADs every other form that is applied with USCIS
- This is a good move by USCIS to help employers respond to RFEs. They do not talk about any of the old RFE notices that were issued before March 1st. So, if you were to receive an RFE on Feb 28th, then you need to respond accordingly within the deadline given, there is no additional 60 days grace period. See below screenshot for official alert and check USCIS Official Alert
Mar-25 – USCIS Offices Closed at least until April 7th.
March 25th, 2020 : USCIS issued an alert and press release today indicating that they are closing their offices at least until April 7th, 2020. It may open after that, unless they extend the closures. They also indicate that USCIS staff is working on the cases that are already with them and will send out the re-schedule notices for all sorts of appointments, interviews, etc. If there is any emergency, you can contact their service center. Check USCIS press release
Mar-20 : Premium Processing Closed, Wet Signature Flexibility
March 20th, 2020 : USCIS did two press releases today outlining cancellation of Premium Processing for I-129 and I-140 forms and also provided flexibility with the Signature when submitting forms. Below are the details by each of the key alerts
Premium Processing Suspended for I-129, I-140 forms
USCIS announced that their Premium Processing service is suspended until further notice for anyone using the forms I-129 and I-140. The reason for the suspension is the national emergency with COVID-19. The various visa holders impacted are :
- I-129 form : Visa Applications for H1B, L1A, L1B, E1, E2, H2B, H3, LZ, O1, O2, P1, P1S, P2S, P3, Q1, R1, TN1, TN2
- I-140 form : EB-1, EB-2 and EB-3 ( Green Card petitions for Employment Based workers )
Starting from March 20th, 2020, USCIS will not accept and process any of the above mentioned forms related to the the visa types in Premium Processing. They will process any of the previously accepted Premium Processing requests before March 20th as per the SLA of 15 days. They also said that the pre-paid mailers options cannot be done due to the situation and only send direct approval notices in their batch printed notices.
They mentioned that, if someone has filed in Premium Processing before March 20th, 2020 and have not heard from USCIS within the SLA of 15 calendar days, then they will receive a refund of the premium processing fee. Also, they will also reject any Premium processing requests that were submitted before March 20th, but not accepted by USCIS and return the Filing fee.
Premium Processing is suspended for all H1B Petitions at this point. The previous Premium processing for FY 2021 guidance is not valid anymore and the tentative dates in them are also not applicable now. In summary, below is the availability situation. Check USCIS Official Press Release
|H1B Visa Filing Category||Premium Processing Status|
|All H1B FY 2021 Cap |
( Regular & Masters Cap)
( COS, Consular Processing)
|Cap Exempt H1Bs|
(Non Profit Research, etc.)
|Previous H1B Cap Pending|
(FY 2020 petitions)
Flexibility with Wet Signature for Forms
USCIS announced that, due to many offices working from home with COVID-19, they are giving flexibility with wet signature on the forms submitted to them. Below is the actual issue and flexibility given by USCIS.
- Issue to Submit Wet Signature Forms : With many working from home, the key issue is employers, attorney or applicants may not be able to get the actual wet signature on a USCIS form and submit the same physical copy with application package, when anyone files for a petition for benefit.
- USCIS Flexibility Option for Signatures : USCIS will accept all forms and documents with reproduced original signatures from March 21st, 2020. This includes I-129 form used for H1B and many other visas types. They say that they already accept such signature for other documents. Let’s understand what is that reproduced signature they accept.
- Reproduced Original Signature : USCIS clarified that, a reproduced original signature is nothing but a physical form with wet signature ( signed by an actual person with pen) that is scanned, faxed or photocopied from the original handwritten signature. Basically, all they are saying is, you need to fill out a physical form, sign it in wet ink with pen and then scan the same and send it to them. They will consider such scanned documents of the original signature, which is called reproduced original signature.
- Retain Original Copies of Reproduced Original Signature : They also mention that all the applicants, employers, attorney need to retain the original copies of the documents that they signed and scanned for verification purpose. USCIS may ask for these in the future, if needed.
You can check the official USCIS Press release for Signatures Guidance
Mar-17 : USCIS Offices Closed to Public for In-Person Activities
March 17th, 2020 : USCIS announced today that they are closing all their offices to public for in-person activities at its field offices, asylum offices and Application Support Centers (ASCs) until April 1st (at least). The reason for this closure is to contain the spread of Coronavirus. Below are the various services that are not available at USCIS offices
- Biometrics Appointments at ASCs for H4, L2, others
- In-person Interviews
- Naturalization Ceremonies
- Asylum applicants interviews
- Infopass appointments
- Any in-person activities for general public.
If you have Infopass appointment or other appointments that are not part of standard process as part of forms filed, then you need to reschedule the same by calling USCIS Contact Center.
What will USCIS do to these appointments scheduled ?
USCIS mentioned that they will send respective notices indicating the closure of the offices and activities to all such applicants with scheduled in-person activities. They will automatically reschedule and send new appointment notices for Biometrics and other activities once USCIS resumes normal operations. Also, they will do the same for Asylum Applicants with interviews rescheduled with new date and location.
Limited Emergency Services
USCIS said that they will provide limited Emergency services. If you have an Emergency need, then you should contact USCIS Contact Center for guidance.
Check Field Offices, ASCs Status
USCIS suggested that they check the USCIS Field Office or ASC status before they go. You can check their current status at USCIS.gov – Field Offices List
What is the impact of USCIS Office Closures ?
This is going to have a very big impact on many people’s ability to work, especially all the H4 EAD holders, if this extends beyond April 1st. As you know H4 + EAD Delays with Biometrics Process, and this closure will mean that those delays will be far more…As H4 EAD holders do not get 180 days automatic extension, for their pending EAD applications, they may end up in situations of losing jobs… If you have H4/ L2 expiring, think of all the options, discuss with your attorney and plan.
Below is the complete alert from USCIS. You can check Official Alert – USCIS Offices Closed
Mar-13 : What does National Emergency for COVID-19 Outbreak by Trump mean?
The National Emergency declaration by Trump is an action taken by US President with his authority to prioritise certain key activities in critical situations, release funds, give waivers for certain things, etc. In fact, in 2009, President Obama also announced National Emergency for H1N1 Swine Flu. With the National Emergency declaration by President Trump, he can free up federal funds to support state and local activities to protect public health and safety. Fundamentally, it is for taking care of the public health and safety measures, distribute supplies like medicine & food as needed.
What does National Emergency with COVID-19 mean for USCIS operations ?
So far, the National Emergency declared by Trump has no immediate impact on the operations of USCIS. They continue to operate, and process applications filed with them like before. They have given guidance before on the re-scheduling on appointments, if you are sick. We will cover those details later in the article. The key thing to remember is that, this guidance was given by USCIS before the National Emergency Declaration for Coronavirus situation. Below are the key actions from USCIS on their operations and expected outcomes.
- Remote Work Program: As of March 9th, USCIS indicated that they will implement Work from Home or Remote Work Program across the agency for their employees. Essentially, USCIS employees continue to work on their day to day activities, but they do not come to office, rather work remotely. Read USCIS Letter on Remote Work Program
- Biometrics / Interviews Re-scheduled: USCIS gave guidance that Biometrics, interview appointments in their offices or Application Support Centers (ASCs) need to be re-scheduled, if the applicant is sick for any reason. This will basically delay the processing time for applications that require Biometrics or Interviews like H4 Visa.
- Potential Delays with Processing : Due to the Remote work program and maybe some employees taking sick leave or some maybe impacted with COVID-19, there could be further delays with the USCIS processing times.
- Application Support Centers( ASCs) Closed : USCIS gave guidance that some Application Support centers maybe closed with COVID-19 situation. If so, they will mail you a new biometrics or interview appointment notice. Also, they suggest that you can go to another ASC and still get your biometrics done. You can check USCIS Offices Status Page for up to date info on all offices and their status
Mar-13 : USCIS Guidance for Biometrics Appointments, Interviews – Reschedule as needed
March 13th, 2020 : USCIS has updated their website with a big alert and details as in below screenshot that tells not to come to Application Support Centers or any USCIS office for any Biometrics appointments or any other appointments, if you sick. It does not matter, if you have been exposed to Coronoavirus or not. They suggest that you follow the instructions on the appointment notice to re-schedule the appointment. There is NO Penalty for re-scheduling the appointments. If you feel sick and have any of the below conditions as in below screenshot, do not visit USCIS Office.
If you go to USCIS office, when you are Sick, then the officer at the office may cancel your appointment or interview.
How to Reschedule your USCIS Appointment ?
Usually, if you look at the appointment notice, you will see a section that says “Request for Rescheduling”, it has instructions on how to mail the same. You can write a simple letter indicating the situation and ask for rescheduling the same. You can call USCIS service center as well to get to know more info. The Notice you got would have the Number to call as well. See below screenshot sample for H4 Biometrics Appointment Notice.
These are important measures to consider, while you may be worried that your processing time for Visa or Extension is going to be delayed…but, the fact of life is health and safety come first and follow the guidance.
They have announced that the offices are closed for public until April 1st, we do not know how long it can go further. Only thing we can do is wait for their update.
Maybe not, just for the job loss. Many have tried that in the past for expediting the case, but have been rejected for expedited processing. You can check USCIS Expedite Processing Request details to get an idea for expedite processing, but we do not know, if USCIS will take all of those now for emergency appointment. You can try calling USCIS Contact center and check.
Probably not. If you already have done Biometrics, your cases should be processed as USCIS employees continue to work from home and doing their job. It maybe slow, but it will be processed.
Yes, you can. As of today, there is no such restriction guidance given by USCIS.
Yes, you may expect that. Due to the COVID-19 situation, some employees may be on leave and remote work may delay some processing too.
No, all are suspended. USCIS clarified on March 20th that premium processing is suspended for all types of petitions using forms I-129 and I-140. The previous Premium processing is suspended for H1B FY 2021 Cap does not hold valid anymore too with the new guidance.
No, there is no penalty for it. You need to indicate the reason for rescheduling indicating that you are sick.
What do you think of the USCIS processing times with COVID-19 ?
Reference : USCIS Guidance COVID-19